Sometimers

by Rob Gregory Browne

Okay.  If you’re like me and you’ve gotten to a certain age, then you know what’s it’s like to get up from your desk, walk toward the kitchen intending to grab, say, an orange, only to get to the kitchen doorway and realize that you’ve forgotten why the hell you went there.

You know you’re there for a reason, but you can’t for the life of you remember what it was.  So, you mumble to yourself, "Friggin’ idiot," and walk back toward your office.

Only halfway there, you suddenly remember what it was you wanted, so you do a quick one-eighty, head back to the kitchen —

— only to forget again.

This happens to me more often than I’d like to admit.  And, yes, it’s true, I smoked a lot of pot when I was younger.

I don’t think it’s the pot, however.  Just age.  And I know people a decade younger than me (who never smoked a joint in their life) who have the same problem.

It’s scary, to say the least.  I start thinking Alzheimer’s.  A friend of mine calls it Sometimers.

But then Dr. Dean once described Alzheimer’s as not forgetting where you parked your car, but forgetting where you parked your car when you don’t have one.

When I was trying to come up with ideas for a blog post tonight, I decided to go the random route.  Come up with two or three topics to discuss briefly.  My wife was listening to me spitball these topics and I came up with a couple that I thought might be interesting.

Okay, not necessarily interesting.  But I’m on a crazy close deadline for the new book and my mind is in a different place.  So the topics were passable.  Something to throw out to the group and let you guys have at it.

Anyway, five minutes and half a conversation later, I couldn’t remember one of the topics I’d decided on.  Strained the brain trying to remember, but just couldn’t do it.

And guess what?  Neither could my wife

What the hell?

Fortunately, she did remember a few moments later and told me what it was. 

I often worry, however, that such things are carrying over into my work.  There will be times that I’m driving and I’m mulling over the new book and all of these wonderful ideas are bouncing around inside my head and I’m thinking, damn, I wish I had my digital recorder because I’d really like to get some of this down.

And of course, by the time I get back to my office, I’ve forgotten half of what it was that had gotten me so excited.

But then maybe that’s as it should be.  A lot of stuff I think about as I’m driving is really useless garbage that just needs to be tossed out of the brain.  A cleansing, of sorts.  And whatever remains behind is the stuff I’ll actually use.

Paul Schrader, the writer of Taxi Driver, once said that he never writes an idea down when it first comes to him, because he figures that if it doesn’t stick, it isn’t worth remembering.

I can pretty much guarantee that I’ve forgotten more ideas than I’ve remembered.  Some of them I even wrote down, only to discover them, years later, on some wrinkled piece of paper.  And guess what? They truly, truly sucked.

What’s disconcerting, however, is when I find the beginning of a story I wrote a few years back and I cannot for the life of me remember writing it.  It seems to have been written by someone else entirely, and while I recognize the handwriting or the typical way I arrange my sentences and paragraphs, I do not recognize it as my work.

As William Allman said, "The brain is a monstrous, beautiful mess."

And I certainly agree with… uh…

What was I about to say?

I suddenly have the sinking feeling that I’ve written about this very same subject in an earlier Murderati post.

Oh, well.

Now on to those two not so spectacular topics:

1.  In response to Allison’s recent post, I never look at the numbers.  I don’t think about bestseller lists.  I don’t WANT to know the numbers.  In fact, the only numbers I DO want to know are the numbers on the checks my publishers send me.  And as long as they keep sending them, I’ll be a happy man.

The reason I don’t want to know the numbers?  Because they’ll color my work.  If the numbers are bad, I’ll freak out and try to tailor my work for "the marketplace."  I’ll start writing vampire stories because vampire stories are hot and surely that’s gotta bring those numbers up.

If the numbers are really good, I’ll get a false sense of confidence and either lose all perspective about the work, or I’ll keep writing the same crap over and over again because I know it’s what works.  That might make my publisher happy, but it certainly won’t make me happy.

Instead, I ignore the numbers and write what I want to read — and hope that others will want to read it as well.  This, obviously, is my own little quirk and does not apply to others.

2.  Speaking of writing.  What the hell am I doing wrong?

I’m in the middle of reading the latest book by one of my favorite authors and I have to say that I’m truly enjoying it.  But I’m three-quarters of the way through and, frankly, NOTHING HAS REALLY HAPPENED.

I’m on page three-hundred-whatever, and the hero has engaged and amused me — and the writing is superb — but I can’t help thinking that by the time I’ve reached this point in one of my own books, A WHOLE HELLUVA LOT OF STUFF HAS HAPPENED.

Is that a problem?  Should I start cutting back on the plot twists?  Should I slow the pace down?

After all, this guy seems to know what he’s doing.  And AGAIN, I’m really enjoying this book.  So what gives?

Okay, that’s all I’ve got.  I’m done with you.  Spent.

Now it’s back to the new manuscript to once again try to remember how I was planning to end that new chapter.

31 thoughts on “Sometimers

  1. Wilfred Bereswill

    I never smoked either. At least I don’t remember smoking.

    Rob, you described my evening. Got up from my computer, went to the kitchen for something, when I got there, POOF! I wandered around in there for a little while looking for visual clues. Found nuttin’ and went back to me computer.

    Still don’t know why I got up. I thought I was the only one.

    Reply
  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Yes, but guys, who cares about a few forgotten oranges when we’re all constantly carrying so much interesting information in our heads?

    I might forget why I’m standing in the kitchen at any particular moment but I can recite whole hours of a conversation I had years ago, verbatim. I bet most of us here can.

    (But yes, it is scary to come across a whole treatment in my own handwriting that I have no recollection of ever working on.)

    Reply
  3. Dana King

    I do that refrigerator thing all the time. Sometime I’ll just get something in case that might be it, to save the trip when I do remember. This could account for why I weight 245 pounds. (15+ stone for you in the UK.)

    I’m still what can euphemistically be called “pre-published,” but I have promised myself that, should I ever become post-pre, I won’t look at the numbers. Or, I hope, reviews. That’s what my agent is for. If something comes up that I really ought to know, she can tell me. Otherwise, I’m writing what I write. If that’s not good enough, well, so it goes.

    I’m delighted to see you’re enjoying a book where nothing seems to happen. I think we all tend to confuse “grabbing the reader on Page One and not letting go” with “blowing shit up and ending every chapter with a cliffhanger.”

    You wouldn’t care to name the book and author, would you?

    Reply
  4. Brett Battles

    I agree…about something…one of your topics…which was it?…what were we talking about?…ah, hell….(and for the record Mr. Browne, I had smoked TWICE in my life, not never…that is if you were referencing me…which I think you were.)

    Over and out.

    Reply
  5. Louise Ure

    Rob, it’s all neatly tied together.

    * The forgetting thing is simply the sign of a busy mind.* You probably do look at all the numbers, then just forget them.* The author you’re reading forgot too .. he forgot to put in any action scenes

    (But why oh why can I still remember all the lyrics to every song I ever heard in high school?)

    Reply
  6. Rob Gregory Browne

    Alex, I can barely remember my conversations from yesterday, let alone years ago.

    Dana, no, I’d rather not name the book and author. I’m in the wrong business to be doing that. πŸ™‚

    Brett, yes, you were ONE of the people I was talking about. I stand corrected. Lightweight.

    Reply
  7. Naomi

    Stopped looking at numbers a while ago, because I don’t have much numbers to look at! I imagine that bestsellers like Tess and Allison have to be more sensitive to these things because they are playing with the big boys. But you touched upon what’s most important — is your publisher happy?

    And in terms of enjoying a book in which not much happens, that’s the magic, strength, and voice of that writer. That may not be your voice, so you shouldn’t try to emulate it. I enjoyed that section in Stephen King’s ON WRITING which discusses writing style, diction, and vocabulary. He has a Steinbeck excerpt, a 50-word sentence that has 39 one-syllable words. Made me feel much better about my own limited, idiosyncratic style.

    BTW, is Battles smoking as we speak (post)?

    Reply
  8. Bill Cameron

    I admit that the numbers I’ve been checking lately are my WorldCat numbers. At the current rate, Chasing Smoke will pass Lost Dog for number of libraries in the next day or so. I am taking pleasure in that.

    Reply
  9. Allison Brennan

    I’m with you, Rob–if I don’t remember it, it’s not worth remembering. (Wait–was I supposed to pick up the kids last night???? — JUST KIDDING!!!) But I’m not kidding on this: I always forget why I got up from my desk. I know why, too–I’m thinking about something else (the damn book) and by the time I’m at my destination (if it was my original destination) I look around and wonder, Why am I here? Worse, I’m a creature of habit. When I was still working in the Capitol I took the same exit off the freeway every day, five days a week. Sometimes i needed to make a stop first, say, two exits down or the exit before. 75% of the time I’d get off on my regular exit, only to realize it just when it’s too late to merge back into traffic.

    Now, on the numbers: I can’t not know. But you’re wrong about one thing: it doesn’t make me complacent. I have no sense of security, false or otherwise. I don’t care to write to the market, and I’m lucky that my work has a market right now because I know that trends can change at the drop of a dime and then where will I be?

    What has happened is that every book I start I panic; I fear that I’ll never be able to write another story half as good as the last; I start second guessing myself and dread that of all the books PW will finally review of mine (they’ve reviewed 1 of 10, I’m not including the killer year antho) and it’ll be the worst thing I’ve ever written. I constantly see the drop beneath me and know I’m clinging on for dear life, because no one is immune to crashing and burning except maybe the mega-authors out there–if they crash and burn, they have a big enough backlist to support them and their family.

    And yes, I do believe that the bottom line is to make sure your publisher is happy. If they’re happy, I’m happy. But that doesn’t make the writing any easier.

    Reply
  10. JT Ellison

    I watch the numbers too, but it’s in a disinterested way, an “Oh, cool, got a bump from that review.” Since there’s no true assessment of the numbers that you can plug into daily, it’s kind of pointless to worry about them. And worry I don’t.

    But the market researcher in me can’t ignore them completely. I’d never use them to dictate what I write, my mind doens’t have that kind of gear. I write the stories I want to tell and hope for the best.

    But the memory thing??? I have the worst short term memory on the planet. Oh well.

    Reply
  11. Jake Nantz

    I would like to second that, in that I hope your complacency theory turns out to be bull. I hope you hit that list and then keep on truckin’ with your writing.

    Then again, I hope that for all of you. How cool would that be, an all-Murderati NYT list?

    Reply
  12. Kathryn Lilley

    I’ve always been absent minded, even when I was young, so I don’t worry about it. I prefer to think that a part of my brain is processing much more important things than a trip to the kitchen. Or maybe it’s trying to keep me healthy by turning me AWAY from the kitchen. Food for thought.

    Reply
  13. Becky Hutchison

    I hate it when I’m at a crucial intersection in my car and I can’t remember where I’m going. It very disconcerting. Luckily it doesn’t happen too much.

    But lately I’m having trouble with finding what word I want to say. Even simple words are hard to dredge up. My son says, “Just SAY IT mom!” But even though the words are on the tip of my tongue, they take a swan dive and run the other way.

    Reply
  14. Jake Nantz

    I’m reminded of Stoppard’s ROSENCRANTZ & GUILDENSTERN…

    “What’s the first thing you remember?”

    “The first thing to pop into my head, you mean?”

    “No, the very first thing you remember.”

    “Hmm…no, no it’s gone. It was a very long time ago.”

    “You misunderstand me. What’s the first thing, after everything you’ve forgotten?”

    “……..I’ve forgotten the question…”

    Reply
  15. Jake Nantz

    Yep Mr. Browne, I’ll get right on that, and you know how they snap to when I dial ’em up!! (Oh, and about that call you were gonna make to your agent/editor/fairy godmother on my behalf, despite having never read a word of my stuff?….yeah, there’s a couple George Washingtons headed your way with my gratitude. You know how we roll)

    Reply
  16. M.J.

    Oh Allison – I am so with you. I go into that exact panic with every damn book – in fact – each book seems like it’s harder to write. A friend of mine says that’s because the more we write the more we know about what not to do – but damn, it’s almost paralyzing sometimes.

    As for numbers – I’m addicted to everything from Worldcat to the Ingram # – and am devastated they are canceling it. But then being in advertising – I use the numbers and can see so clearly how the week there is advertising twice as many books sold as the week there was none – so I don’t mind my obsession.

    Reply
  17. PK the Bookeemonster

    There is a book out there, an autobiography, about a woman who can’t forget. Since 1980. Her brain doesn’t turn off it’s photographic memory thingy although she says she has to write down grocery lists, etc. Very interesting and probably both useful and painful.

    Reply

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